Five scientific and technological innovations enhancing agriculture in Africa

Agriculture is absolutely fundamental to development on the continent. It employs more than 65% of the continent’s populations and contributes 35% of Africa’s GDP. Yet the continent’s smallholder farmers, who comprise 80% of its agricultural labour forces, face challenges from plant disease to a lack of appropriate financing. There’s no better time to highlight five scientific and technological advancements that are really making a difference in the continent’s agricultural sector.

1) mFarm

The majority of Kenyan farmers grow small volumes of crops, which are bought and sold in the country’s markets. However, farmers are dependent on buyers for information on how much they should be selling their crops for. To address this problem, Kenyan entrepreneur, Jamilla Abass, decided to create mFarm, an online platform that allows 14,000 registered farmers to buy and sell their crops, seeds, fertilisers and such inputs together. Soon, the platform will also provide a step-by-step guide that tells farmers how to enhance their crop production. An amazing initiative that can really enhance local farmers’ livelihoods!

2) The orange fleshed sweet potato

Vitamin A deficiency is one of the biggest public health problems on the continent, affecting more than 43 million children. Children afflicted with the deficiency are extremely susceptible to blindness, stunting, and are more likely to die earlier.

Last year, Drs. Robert Mwanga, Maria Andrade, and Jan Low of the International Potato Centre received the World Food Prize for their work on biofortified crops to reduce hidden hunger and vitamin A deficiency. Their work proved that people across sub-Saharan Africa would accept the biofortified Orange Fleshed Sweetpotato (OFSP) into their diets, that the innovation could prevent vitamin A deficiency, and that countries would adopt the new food. 14 African countries have now embraced OFSP as an integral part of their diets, which has reduced vitamin A deficiency and enhanced food security for many families.

3) Kilimo Salama

According to the African Development Bank, low levels of specialised financing are one of the main impediments in boosting agriculture across the continent. However, the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, UAP Insurance, and telecoms giant, Safaricom, partnered to create Kilimo Salama (‘Safe Agriculture’), an insurance product for Kenyan farmers. The product will offer farmers who plant on very small fields insurance policies to protect them from significant financial losses incurred during drought or excessive rainfalls. We welcome similar innovative financing services!

4) The Africa Soil Information Service

Unsurprisingly, one of the main determinants of agricultural success is the availability and suitability of farming land. Yet the African continent lacks basic data on this subject, which affects the management of its natural resources.

In recognition of this problem, the Africa Soil Information Service is developing pan-continental digital soil maps for sub-Saharan Africa using statistics, field trials and crowdsourcing. Given that digital soil mapping can help enhance sustainable agricultural intensification, we applaud this innovation!

5) Vibration hand pumps

Groundwater is a crucial water source for 200 million people across the continent, yet researchers struggle to document future supplies. However, a team of researchers from Oxford University published a study that shows that attaching low-cost sensors to hand pumps can help address the problem. Their study reveals that pump vibrations record the true depth of well water. Lead author Dr. David Clifton, associate professor of engineering science at Oxford, told the BBC, “”This project is a great example of using the latest developments in low-cost mobile sensors and machine learning. Working closely with development experts, we can help tackle water security, which is an issue of huge importance in the developing world.” The authors also note that this innovation can help facilitate agricultural production, as well as prevent future droughts across the continent.

The PEI is extremely fortunate to welcome Dr. Robert Mwanga as one of the speakers at our Spotlight Seminar on agriculture in Africa. If you would like to attend the event, please email

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